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Forest Hills Precinct Commander Takes Lead in NYPD Twitter Project

 Capt. Thomas Conforti has been tapped by the NYPD to be part of a pilot program to tweet about neighborhood crime issues.
Capt. Thomas Conforti has been tapped by the NYPD to be part of a pilot program to tweet about neighborhood crime issues.
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DNAinfo/Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska

QUEENS — Six weeks ago Capt. Thomas Conforti, commanding officer of the 112th Precinct in Forest Hills, had never sent a tweet in his life.

Since then, he's become a social media expert.

Conforti, who has been tapped by the NYPD as one of five precinct commanders to be part of a pilot program to tweet about neighborhood crime, has sent out more than 400 tweets and has nearly 1,300 followers.

His goal, he said, is to have 10 times that.

Conforti, who's also started to use Twitter for his personal interests — including following Prince and The New Power Generation — said he embraced the chance to interact with more residents than he would normally have a chance to.

He also loves the banter, especially about the Rangers, who are headed to the Stanley Cup Finals.

DNAinfo New York spoke with Conforti about his experience with Twitter, which began with his first tweet on April 15.

Q: Why were you chosen for the program?

A: I never asked why I was chosen, but I believe it has to do with the fact that we tried [to organize an] online community meeting in December. We wanted to get people involved [and] have already attempted some usage of social media.

Q: Have you received training from the NYPD or been given a manual on how to tweet and what to tweet about?

A: They gave us a reference — it isn’t rules or regulations — it’s basically samples of what other police departments have been using. There are a substantial amount of police departments that are using social media — Philadelphia is big into it, Boston has a very big following and Los Angeles does, too.

Q: So you learned tweeting on your own?

A: Yes. The first day that we started this [program] was the first time I’ve ever tweeted. I looked at it once or twice online to try and get the abbreviations and what everything means.

Q: For someone who had never used it before, you seem to have really embraced social media.

A: I like this direct interaction. But I still think that people don’t realize that they are speaking to me directly, as opposed to a 911 operator.

While I want to get as many people as possible to be part of this Twitter experience, it can never replace calling 911 in emergencies.

Q: What’s your favorite part of the Twitter experience?

A: I like interacting with people. I love the banter, back and forth. The Easter egg contest was phenomenal. I like tweeting the personal aspects too. You see a lot of New York Rangers tweets. [That's because] there are a lot of police officers that are Rangers fans … like everyone else.

Q: How do you decide what to tweet about?

A: I try not to tweet things out that don’t affect a vast majority of people...[But] a little [subway] track fire is never going to make the local news so it’s a very good way to keep people informed about what’s going on in the community.

I want to put out information that can help the immediate residents. It’s kind of cool to see that we can tailor this Twitter experience to fit the needs of our community. What might help me and the residents here in the 112th [Precinct], might not be an issue in the 83rd Precinct or the 106th Precinct.

Q: Are your followers mostly residents of the 112th Precinct?

A: In the beginning they weren’t. But now every day there is some kind of community outreach to get more residents involved. Just [last Wednesday] I had three residents tweeting me about [issues related to the neighborhood]. So that’s getting the message to me that I’m getting the audience that I need, such as the accident on Woodhaven or people wanting stop signs on 108 Street. … The more people in the community that become a part of this, the more this whole Twitter social media use is going to be beneficial to everybody.

Q: You have initiated popular “tweetalongs" on Tuesdays. How do they work?

A: The "tweetalongs" are [through] the eyes of a daily routine of police officers in this command. Because it's limited to one car, it doesn’t give a 100 percent accurate picture of what goes on, but I really think it serves a purpose to let the residents and the public know that we are doing a lot more than just arrest people and write summonses to people.

I tend to think that people follow the "tweetalongs" because they are intrigued and because they don’t know what’s going to happen next. You don’t know if you are going to have a tree falling, someone in cardiac arrest, a train derailment or [you will be] responding to a call for a man with the gun.

I need people to understand that when they follow these "tweetalongs" and they are looking for robberies and burglaries, that on an average day, these things don’t happen.

Q: Do you have any strategy to get the community more engaged on Twitter and to attract more followers?

A: The goal is to get more people involved in this. There are 100,000 residents that live in this precinct. Cut that in half and say that 50,000 of them would use social media. Let’s cut that in half, and say 25,000 of them would be users of Twitter. If half of them would really be interactive, then we are successful — because I’m reaching 12,500 people, as opposed to 60 people at a [precinct community council] meeting.

But what about the other people that we can connect to but don’t have the time to come to meetings? Social media is perfect for that.

During the upcoming open house we are going to try and do something along the way of [Twitter-related] scavenger hunt at the Austin Street Fair which is on the same day.

[And before the upcoming] Zac Brown [Band] concert [we are also running] a contest on Twitter...In the end we are going to select two winners from the neighborhood and they are going to spend the day with me...After that the concert promoters will let them watch from the front row.